Do Employees Need to Know

If you are playing fast and loose with the IRS or cheating on your partner, maybe they don’t need to know. Other than patently stupid business activities like these, you are better off if employees know as much about your business as they can accurately absorb. It should be your goal to help them absorb as much as possible.

Got your back!
Certainly you understand the value of having someone who has “got your back” or to “watch your six.” The precise expression depends on which TV shows you follow. Isn’t it a lot better if your whole organization backs you up? I could not begin to list all the times in my journeys through the wilds of commerce that my employees have snatched me back from disaster — both fiscal and physical.

Shop employees may say, “Don’t believe I’d build it that way. Last time we did, it blew up.” Accounting employees even more often say, “Your spreadsheet has errors here, here and here, and I’ve fixed them for you.”

I would feel positively naked (and probably be a lot poorer) if these good folks had not been keeping a weather eye out for me. Most of us entrepreneurial types don’t like to spend huge amounts of time on details, but somebody does need to watch them. Most businesses make their money by “sweating the small stuff.” We can’t all be Bill Gates and invent Windows.

Here it comes! There it goes!
Another big area that benefits from the depth of employee knowledge is capitalizing on fleeting opportunities. They come up everyday, and you don’t see a lot of them at all. Some more you only see as they depart — too late to do any good.

However, this is where the small businesses can eat the big players lunch. Knowledgeable and motivated employees can hook you up with some really good chances for profit. Non-sales employees know about people who plan to buy a boat. Respected technicians even motivate some of them while reporting on the life signs surrounding their present boat. The sales guys gossip with their counterparts, and they know what lines are opening up, what lines have problems, and which good employees at a competitor are looking to make a change. You are probably operating at the wrong level to hear most of this, even if your dealership is small.

Plan the work and work the plan!
I favor having virtually everyone involved in planning. Make no mistake: It’s the boss’s job to make the final decision after all the available data is in. Where do you think you are going to get “all the available data?” Your people know a lot that you don’t. Their take is an excellent cross check on yours, even if you do have the best data. By all means share it, so all get on board with the decision.

Further, if they help you craft the plan, guess who will support you in making it work. They will understand the logic of your direction better and commit to making ideas fly. You probably wouldn’t be in charge if you didn’t have an overdose of creativity. It’s what pulls your operation ahead of the pack. If your ideas are like mine, they frequently have a few holes in them that need filling. He who fills those holes is my ally on the project for sure. He (or she) owns a piece of it.

I understand that not everybody reading this will agree. My father was a wonderful and generous employer, but he did not initially subscribe to the “Sunshine Principle” of business knowledge to which I adhere. I think playing it close to the vest worked well for him as long as we were small. He had a good mind for detail and kept track of everything with his hand-made spreadsheets and card files. He begrudgingly gave our CPA enough data to do the annual tax return.

As we grew, Dad saw the difficulties of his approach. OK, I pushed him some to see them. Computers aided growth, but they also made the closed style nigh impossible. He had me take a programming course in the hopes of “keeping it in the family.” At completion, I told him I would rather eat briars than program computers. My Certificate of Accomplishment was strictly a “social promotion.”

As the sunshine of company knowledge permeated our businesses, loyal employees fell in step planning our growth, looking for opportunities and watching our six. Dad was at least as happy as I was. It also made him comfortable when the time came to step down. He had been stepping down one area at a time for a long while, because of his growing confidence in our troops. I’m doing the same thing now, and it’s a very comfortable feeling.

If you want to reach the level of excellence needed to be Marine Industry Certified and a Top 100 Dealer, let your employees play an active part. Together, you and they can do it, if they know where they are headed. Try bringing key folks to Marine Retailers Association of America conventions and other industry meetings. You’ll be glad you did.

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